Saturday, 7 March 2009

No 1 Ladies Author, part II

Following Alexander McCall Smith's reading, there was a question & answer session.

Are his books popular because they have happy endings? His view is that people crave resolution, we don’t always get it in real life, but we find books which have a clear resolution satisfying – one reason why classic detective stories are so popular, because the ‘baddie’ does not get away with it. This segued into a discussion as to the comparison between crime and the ‘ultimate stain of the carpet’ and whether it is significant that so many of the classis crime writers are women, which in turn led to a question about strong women and the fact that both of his series of books feature very strong women.

After commenting that his mother had been a strong women, but that he had never come across anyone who said that their mother had been a weak woman, Mr McCall Smith went on to say that Freud would no doubt suggest that his writing about strong women can be interpreted as an attempt to find or reunite with his mother. He commented that Mma Ramotswe is a motherly person, even though she has not any children of her own, but that he (AMS) had never been tempted to go to a psychologist in case if he got himself ‘sorted out’ he found that he stopped writing as a result!

On a more serious note he talked a little about Botswana, in response to questions about how his books are received there, and the country in general. He said that on the whole, people are very generous, and that he feels that this is in part because the stories are not the kind of bleak, ‘heart of darkness’ books about death and corruption which are often written by non-Africans about Africa. He was also of the view that Botswana had been very lucky in it’s leaders since independence in 1966 –Seretse Kharma, the first president taking a particularly strong line against corruption, and that in general, the country has a good record on Human rights, and was very fortunate that the diamonds in the country were not discovered until after independence!

There was then a discussion about the chronology of the books - AMS admitted that although in both series the characters move on and progress, there are a few chronological errors – for example, in the Mma Ramotswe books, although there have been 10 of these, the apprentices are still apprentices, and have not finished(and, he says, will never finish) their apprenticeships, and similarly, in the ‘Scotland Street’ books, Bertie has been 5 throughout all of the books, and will remain so, because it is so much fun!

And finally – he revealed that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s initials stand for John Limpopo Basil….and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is embarrassed by the ‘Basil’!

And so it was that the session came to an end.

As with the other Bath Lit. Festival events, there was a signing after the reading. I was fortunate to be reasonably near the front of the queue (although having started my getting-stuff-signed experiences by going to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett readings I expect long queues), and was able to get my copy of ‘The Good Husband of Zebra Drive’ signed – AMC was very friendly and chatty – I mentioned having first read his legal textbook, and he told me that from time t time he does get people turning up to get these signed (I had thought of this, but couldn't find my copy. It's probably in a box, somewhere)
While waiting, I amused myself by eavesdropping on the ladies behind me in the queue, who seemed aggrieved at having to queue, and by the fact that AMS was slowing things down by actually talking to people! I think perhaps they were the kind of Ladies who Lunch, and were unaccustomed to having to queue.

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